Joining the growing chorus in opposition to the Department of Justice’s proposed expansion of its civil asset forfeiture program, by unanimous vote the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a statement rebuking the policy.
The commission is an eight-person independent and bipartisan commission charged with shaping policy on civil rights through investigating and reporting, and is currently chaired by an Obama appointee. Along with opining on civil forfeiture policy, the commission issued three other statements on events happening in Charlottesville, Virginia, transgender people serving in the military, and voting rights.
“Although the Department has included new notice procedures and has promised monitoring in this new policy directive, scaling up rather than scaling back on this practice means more innocent Americans will lose their property,” read the release.
The commission investigated conflicts of interests that arose from government collecting money in the form of fines and fees rather than administration of justice. “Testimony the Commission received indicated that civil asset forfeiture creates similar problems, leading to innocent persons losing their property or recovering it only after prolonged legal struggles and undermining public trust in government,” the report found, also noting, “Public trust in the police is dangerously undermined when police are perceived to be acting primarily in their own financial interests, rather than in the interests of public safety.”
Opponents of the program often talk about the perverse incentives associated with civil forfeiture. Many law enforcement departments at the state and local level rely on asset forfeiture proceeds to close budget gaps or cover the costs for things like training and travel. This opens the door for the reliance on this additional revenue stream to trump justice.
The report concluded by definitively calling for an end to the practice, “The Commission urges the Department of Justice to heed the many concerns raised about civil asset forfeiture and limit or – better for justice – end the practice.”
The group joins law enforcement leaders, civil rights groups, conservative think tanks, and most Americans in voicing their disagreement with the DOJ over the policy.